This School’s Master’s Programs May Be The Most ‘Global’ In The U.S.

Courtesy UVA McIntire

Q&A: Peter Maillet, University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce

Poets&Quants: How do you illustrate the concept that “All business is global business”?

Peter Maillet: Sometimes to make the point, I’ll take the most local business you can think of, like, your local sandwich shop or something like that. And then we’ll talk for a minute about the inputs and realize that the produce that’s being used is quite likely in the wintertime coming from Mexico or somewhere else in central America. The cost of the capital that they’re using to finance their business is impacted by global forces that they have no control over, you know, et cetera, et cetera.

I believe that very strongly. And the other thing that I find we’re talking more and more about in our classrooms — I know certainly I am as well — is that businesses all over the world are increasingly impacted by forces that are inherently global, or trends, you might say. And there’s really four that I talk a lot about in my class that I think are worth touching upon.

The first are geopolitical forces. And that’s obviously top of mind right now with all of the discussion that’s going on in terms of trade friction, not only with China, but recently with Canada and Mexico and increasingly with Europe and so forth. So the geopolitical backdrop, I believe, is an important thing for our business students to understand.

The second trend we talk a lot about are changing political forces within countries and, particularly, at least in recent years, the trend toward what some people might refer to as anti-globalization or nationalism or whatever other terms you might want to associate with that — but the increasing tendency in many political systems around the world for leaders to go local and to try to deflect what they perceive to be the costs of globalization.

The third is technological forces. I think this is very, very important. You think about the technological mega-trends, the really disruptive disruptors that are coming in the next decade, and that in some ways are already here. So Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, some of the things that are happening in the life sciences — those are not domestic trends. Those are global trends and they’re being pushed and pioneered by scientists and entrepreneurs and big companies as well, not only in the United States, very importantly, but also in places like China, Russia, and Israel. And so students I think need to have an appreciation of that, because even if they may not be as aware of it in their home market, they are forces that are going to drive very disruptive changes in business models.

And then the last one I would mention in terms of these kinds of mega-trends is, of course, environmental. Obviously there’s increasing evidence that business is a very major cause of environmental disruption, but then business also holds out the promise to be the force to create the solutions to both local environmental degradation and also bigger systemic issues that we might put in the bucket of global climate change.

That’s an awful lot to kind of mix in together there, but when I think about answering your question, I’m really thinking about all of those things that students need to be able to wrap their mind around if they’re going to understand, “How does this particular business that I’m working for or is a customer of mine or a client in a consulting engagement or whatever — how do they fit into that much, much bigger picture is really where we’re trying to get them to?”

Why is it important, in your view, for business school students to have a global mindset? Is it simply a matter of “Broader perspectives translate into broader horizons,” that when you travel, you meet people and it’s all about who you know?

Courtesy UVA McIntire

That is undoubtedly true, although honestly, I would have a different take on that, in this sense: What I’ve observed — certainly my own personal experience having lived and worked abroad for 10 years, but then also just watching students go through this year after year — is that it’s all about changing their own personal frames. In other words, we see year after year that when students go abroad, it helps them to answer their own very personal questions of who they are, and it makes them think bigger. They imagine themselves being things and doing things and making impacts that they never really could have imagined before, because they suddenly realize, “Wait a minute. There’s a much, much bigger pond that I could swim in than I really fully realized,” and that, “I’m more relevant to more places than I realized.”

And so what I notice a lot in these experiences that we lead is that you kind of think about, “Okay, how have these students changed over the last month?” — that’s what I notice most of all. Undoubtedly, they have met impressive people and they’ve built a bit of a network and they’ve collected some business cards that may prove to be useful in some ways in the future. But at a much more profound level, they come back thinking about an opportunity set and an opportunity for them to engage in that opportunity set that they really hadn’t thought about before.

Travel and study broad is also an opportunity, obviously, to boost cultural awareness and cultural competency, attributes companies must desire — and increasingly desire. 

Yeah, I think so. Although I would encourage you to think about more than just the cultural side. I mean, I think very often traveling abroad, it does get kind of soundbited as “It’s about building cultural competency,” but cultural competency is only part of it. I mean, clearly you do need to build cultural awareness, cultural competency, the ability to work in a constructive way across cultures and stuff like that. But it’s also about developing, for example, political competency and regulatory awareness and an understanding of how patterns in countries are very, very different. Let me put it even more simply: that countries are different, one to the other, not only because of their cultural difference, but they’re different, for example, because they have very, very different demographic patterns and they have very different political systems and they have very different legal environments and they have very different business norms of one kind or another.

And so we definitely focus a lot on culture, but we really try to help students appreciate culture as one of those kinds of differences that you have to master, but certainly not the only one.

But on a very basic level, a well-rounded global experience helps you in comparison with other job applicants. Of absolute primacy to our readers is the question of getting a job after school, as you can imagine. Having international experience helps in that mission, even if you are seeking work in the U.S., right?

Undoubtedly, and it’s really for a couple of reasons. The obvious reason is because of where we started, which is that if you buy into the thesis that I think, frankly, it’s hard not to buy into, that all business is global, then hiring people who have a global perspective, have a global understanding and have at least the beginnings of a global skill-set is something that probably every company should be prioritizing. And I’m sure most are!

But then I think the second, more subtle point is that students who have spent time abroad very often develop a wider, more inquisitive, more thoughtful frame of mind. Very often you find it improves critical-thinking skills, it improves situational awareness skills. It leads to a greater appreciation of diversity, even diversity here at home, and understanding and appreciating difference and being able to work in situations of diversity. And so I think for all of those reasons it’s key. And again, I would come back to that earlier point, that even if you are an apparently quite local company, hiring people who have had those experiences and whose minds have been ever-altered by them, I think can only help you in ways that may not be as obvious as, “Oh, yes, that’s perfect because we have an office in Country X or we have customers in Country Y.” I think it can be helpful in much more subtle ways.

And creating more graduates with global experience, a global mindset, is good for the globe, is it not? The world needs business leaders who can drive positive change. 

Without a doubt, and it’s the beginning and the end of everything we teach. I think built into the DNA — certainly at McIntire and I’m sure at many other business schools as well — is the idea that business holds out the best hope for positive social change and positive environmental change and positive political change. It’s, I think, a very unfortunate thing that all too often people try to put business in the box of forces that caused the problems. And then it supposedly pulled politicians and leaders of NGOs and other organizations that are the purveyors of the solutions to those problems. And that is such a misreading of reality. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s businesses that allocate capital. It’s businesses that harness technological change. It’s businesses that employ people. And it’s businesses that create the products we all use every day to make our lives better.

And so the better we can inculcate in our future business leaders a sense that you have an opportunity to use the tools that you’re acquiring at a business school, to use the perspectives that you’re acquiring at a business school to be a force of positive change in the world, we’re all better off for it. At the end of the day I can tell you that’s why I teach. And it’s surely the number-one reason why a great many of us teach: to help, you might say, equip our future business leaders with the opportunities to make a positive impact.

You know, 10 years ago that might have sounded a little preachy and might not have reached that many students. I think something that gives me a great deal of confidence is what I just said is considered mainstream now in the minds of our students. That’s why our students are going to business school. And I think that says something very positive about our future.

Sunset in Copenhagen. Courtesy UVA McIntire


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